South Africa close in on No. 1 Test ranking
England 315 and 16 for 2 (Trott 6*, Bell 4*) need 330 more runs to beat South Africa 309 and 351 (Amla 121, Finn 4-60)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details
The plotting has been going on for years, the final campaign got underway at The Oval a month ago, but the phase when South Africa truly believed that they were about to go top of the Test rankings, and displace England in the process, lasted a matter of 13 overs in the polite atmosphere of a Lord's Test Sunday evening.
In that time, England, faced by what for them would be a record fourth-innings run chase of 346 to win the final Test at Lord's and level the series, lost Alastair Cook and their captain Andrew Strauss to limp to the close of the fourth day at 15 for 2.
Vernon Philander found inswing with the new ball to dismiss both England openers lbw, leaving Cook motionless and Strauss strokeless. Any captain can be forgiven an error of judgment after spending much of the past month wondering how England would ever bowl South Africa out, but his passive exit felt like the official concession of a series.
England need another 329 runs at about 3.6 runs an over on a fifth-day pitch when the average score in this Test has been below three. They must also do it against a South Africa pace attack which has proved itself the best in the world, marshalled by a captain, Graeme Smith, whose fortitude is surely about to be rewarded. They must also do it without the potential for the extraordinary that Kevin Pietersen occasionally brings. It is a big ask for team spirit and unity.
England's bowlers must feel mentally and physically battered, relieved perhaps that this was not a five-Test series. In the opening scene of the Coen brothers' movie, O Brother, Where Art Thou? , a chain gang in 1930s Mississipi is seen breaking rocks while singing Po Lazarus, a negro spiritual song. Bowling at South Africa throughout this series has left England's badly in need of a melody or two as they have repeatedly foundered on the array of boulders that constitute South Africa's batting line-up.
Hashim Amla's unyielding 121 in South Africa's second-innings 351 condemned England on what began as London's hottest day of the year to a disheartening experience on a sedate and comparatively reliable pitch of chipping away against rock with the sensation that balls and chains were around their feet.
No team has chased down 345 to win a Test at Lord's - although the 1984 West Indians did rampage to 344 for 1 thanks to a double century by Gordon Greenidge, a man who as the Negro spiritual observes about Po Lazarus, took some arresting.
Amla was 57 overnight and when he back-cut Jonathan Trott to reach his hundred in the first full over of the afternoon - Trott bowling because the second new ball was only two overs away - it was his first boundary of the day. He dealt in placement, a batsman of immense certainty and subtlety.
That England could retain any hope of victory as the day progressed owed much to Steven Finn. Just when it looked as if South Africa were bound for safety at 259 for 4, a lead of 253, he produced a pre-tea spell of 3 for 19 in seven overs, including the vital wicket of Amla for 121, to keep depression at bay.
Finn does not strike you as a man much given to spiritual songs - he does not even look as if he would make much of a fist of karaoke - but once Stuart Broad and James Anderson had taken that new ball to no avail, he was introduced into the attack and plotted England's last, desperate attempt to escape.
In the first innings, he cut one back to bowl Amla through the gate, this time he straightened one to bowl him past the outside edge. AB de Villiers was unhinged by a ball that bounced and left him, giving Strauss, at first slip, his 121st catch, a record for an England outfielder, taking him beyond Ian Botham and Colin Cowdrey. Jacques Rudolph, a left-hander attacked from around the wicket, edged another ball that held its line and edged to the wicketkeeper.
Finn had taken four wickets in the first innings, but he had struggled for rhythm, just as he had in the second Test at Headingley, his habit of nudging the stumps with his knees at the bowler's end not helping his state of mind.
At Lord's, his home ground, his presence returned, as did his ability to leave the righthander. He bowled well from the start of the day, as if he recognised that this was England's final opportunity, and a slim opportunity at that, and the urgency of the situation made him remember what he was: a fast bowler.
But Philander struck out successfully for the second time in the match, impressing on England that Amla's century had all but settled the series. Amla had been missed on 2 down the leg side by Matt Prior the previous day, his first drop standing back for two years, and he made England suffer. His consummate response to all that England's offspinner, Graeme Swann, could throw at him, was a major indication of South Africa's authority.
England made their task more difficult with another blemish in the field. Anderson's fumble, diving forward to intercept a simple catch at short midwicket off Swann left the batsman, de Villiers, on 8, looking on in wonder. Strauss also missed a very difficult chance at slip, also off Swann, when Duminy, on 4, carved at the offspinner and the ball struck Strauss on the wrist at pace. England needed to accept every opportunity going.
It took England another 17.2 overs after tea to remove South Africa's last three wickets. Philander's dismissal for a spirited 35 owed much to good fortune as Anderson overbalanced slightly in footholes that have troubled him periodically throughout the match and delivered a wide long hop which Philander carved to Jonny Bairstow at backward point.
Morne Morkel fell to a smart piece of wicketkeeping from Prior who waited for his back foot to lift in the air momentarily before removing the bails. Anderson cleaned up Imran Tahir to the roars of the Lord's crowd, the fourth successive full house, for whom hope sprang eternal.
Before lunch, South Africa lost only the nightwatchman Steyn - not much more than a pebble as South African batting rocks go. Treated to a barrage of short balls, he had been struck on the top hand the previous evening and suffered another blow in the same spot from Finn.
He clung on gamely for nearly nine overs until Broad produced a rearing delivery which he could only lob gently to James Taylor at short leg. And, as for the injury, it was not even his bowling hand.
David Hopps is the UK editor of ESPNcricinfo